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CO2-to-chemicals effort boosted by electrocatalytic process

By Scott Jenkins |

The quest to generate chemicals and fuels from exhaust or atmospheric carbon dioxide got a boost from a series of recent studies by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL; Berkeley, Calif.; www.lbl.gov), in which the scientists proved the viability of an electrocatalytic process for making ethanol, propanol and ethylene from CO2 using renewably generated electricity. In addition, the LBL team has shown a pathway toward highly selective copper electrocatalysts that could be engineered to produce a single product, thereby eliminating the need for downstream separation. In one project, the LBL scientists, led by Joel Ager, a researcher at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, were able to exceed the efficiency of natural photosynthesis in converting CO2 into two-carbon compounds and oxygenates using an “all-purpose” silver-copper catalyst and electrons from solar photovoltaic cells. In another project, the team showed that engineered copper catalysts could potentially be highly selective for specific chemicals. “We used cycles of oxidation and reduction to create copper active sites, similar to the methods used to engineer heterogeneous catalysts for industrial applications,” says Ager. The oxidation…
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